Jerusalem, my happy home,
when shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end?
Thy joys when shall I see?
Anyone who has spent time in church has heard hundreds of Bible stories, and sung as many hymns about the land where Jesus walked. We get the idea that the Bible and its people and its stories are metaphorical.
But here’s the thing. We do ourselves a disservice to reduce the earthiness, the substance, of the Bible to two dimensions. Jerusalem is a living, breathing city, not just William Blake’s vision of the heavenly England. The Judean wilderness, where we went today, is vast and dramatic and stunningly desolate. Bedouin shepherds still make a meager life as their clans have done for thousands of years. If a man were to, say, be attacked by robbers and be left for dead, as one of my companions said today, “he would be screwed.” Unless of course a good Samaritan came along.
It was to this very place that Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit immediately after his baptism by John in the Jordan River. It is inconceivable that one could survive here for 40 days without food, even if you could find water.
Our group stood in the Jordan River just a few yards from the kingdom of Jordan, at the place where Jewish tradition says the Israelites first entered the Promised Land. We renewed our own baptismal vows, and prayed for each other, standing in the surprisingly cold, brown water.
Perhaps the single greatest gift of visiting the Holy Land is its assault on the senses. As our leader said, henceforth we will no longer read the Bible in black and white, but in color.